Headmasters in northern England have created a furore in the South over their use of the tawse on adolescent girls.
Last week, hundreds of girls at Heaton comprehensive school in Newcastle ran riot after being told they were to have equal rights to a beating with the boys.
Mr Harry Askew, the head, announced in assembly that he was going to introduce the strap for pupils of both sexes in order to stop the "uncouth and nasty behaviour" of a small group of girls.
The riot at the 1,300-strong school only ended after the police had been called. Later, five girls, said to be the ringleaders, were suspended and letters were sent to their parents inviting them to discuss their daughters' behaviour with the head.
This week another head, Mr Donald Simpson of Linskill High School in North Shields, used the cane on two 15-year-old girls to punish them for beating up a classmate.
Mr Simpson acted with the consent of the parents and, apparently, of the victims. Both girls apologised for what they had done and agreed that they deserved "six of the best".
But coming so soon after the Heaton affair, Mr Simpson's use of the cane hit the headlines. Newspapers told how all Newcastle schools were issued with a tawse and in the telling they somehow managed to imply that racks and thumbscrews were available on request from county hall.
Everyone, from Fred Mulley, the education secretary, downwards pitched into the controversy. Mr Mulley said he personally was against corporal punishment. He added that he had always thought the tawse was only used in Scotland, a country that lay beyond his jurisdiction.
Mrs Renee Short, Labour MP for Wolverhampton, said the use of the cane on a 15-year-old girl was "undesirable", especially if the punishment were administered by a man.